How My Own Racism Led Me Back to Jesus
Updated: Feb 6, 2020
As most anyone who has known me for longer than a week knows, I’ve been struggling with the actions and beliefs of white evangelicals for quite a while now. I’ve struggled so much that there have been times I’ve had to sit and think “Do I even believe any of this anymore?”
How do I reconcile a church (not mine, to be clear, my church is awesome) that says “We don’t want ‘illegal’ immigrants in our country and will do whatever necessary to keep them out” with Leviticus 19:34, “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”?
How do we wholeheartedly support a President who calls women “ugly,” “fat,” “horseface” (those are the only ones appropriate enough to share right now) while 1 Thessalonians says “Encourage one another and build one another up.”?
How do we support an administration that cut the number of refugees allowed in our country by 80% over the last 3 years during one of the largest refugee/humanitarian crises the world has seen? There are over 70 million refugees around the world with nowhere to go, and in 2020 we will allow a maximum of 18,000 into the USA. How do Christians support this when the Deuteronomy 27:19 says “Cursed is anyone who denies justice to foreigners, orphans, or widows.”?
How does the church so blindly ignore the plight of our black brothers and sisters, the constant oppression they still face daily, yet Isaiah 1:17 says “Seek justice. Help the oppressed.”?
How do we chant “America First!” when Jesus told us explicitly in Matthew 20:16, “The last will be first, and the first last.”?
These are things I cannot wrap my mind around and do not understand. I struggled so much with seeing Christian people act and say and support such un-Christlike things that it truly shook my faith. “If this is the church,” I thought, “I want no part of it.”
But after reading Reconstructing the Gospel by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, I realized that I was, in fact, the blind one.
I realized that my own disillusionment with white evangelical church, the disillusionment that almost took my faith, was because of my own racial bias.
I’ve grown up in white churches, white communities, white schools. I can count the number of my black classmates and friends on two hands. I am in the middle of an incredibly wealthy and privileged white bubble. And that includes my faith.
My faith was so centered around white evangelicalism that I thought if it failed, that meant there was no Christianity left to be salvaged. If they have it wrong, it must all be wrong. If the white evangelicals are so misled and misguided, then the whole Church must be foundationally misled and misguided.
I subconsciously believed that if middle-class, educated white people got it so wrong, it was wrong. They were, after all, in my world, the end-all-be-all of authority. So if they’re wrong, it must all be wrong.
How blind am I.
To allow white evangelicalism to be the measuring stick of all Christianity is like letting Taco Bell be the measuring stick for all Mexican food. They’re everywhere and they’re not all bad, but it’s nowhere close to the real thing.
Believing that Christianity is false because white evangelicalism is false completely disparages the faith so many other minority and oppressed groups have shown for centuries.
There are black churches all over America that still worship Jesus. They know who Jesus is and are not swayed by the missteps of white evangelicals. In fact, the missteps of white people are all too common for them and definitely not worth questioning their faith over.
There are churches all over Africa and Asia and South America that are worshiping Jesus, without a thought or care about what white evangelicals are doing.
There are refugees in camps around the world, worshiping Jesus, praying for salvation from their horrific circumstances, all while Christians in America deny them access to freedom and safety while praying to the same Jesus.
Slaves worshiped Jesus. Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglas, both former slaves, were committed followers of Jesus, through their enslavement and freedom. Their masters prayed to the same Jesus, then came home from church to beat their slaves.
This dichotomy is not new. For centuries white people have been distorting the Bible to further their own power and status while the truly oppressed have found comfort, joy, and freedom in its truths.
I realized that if Harriet Tubman can read the same Bible as her masters and still believe in the true Jesus, then I can certainly read the same Bible as white evangelicals and still believe in the true Jesus.
So white evangelicals have it wrong. This shouldn’t be a surprise (it definitely isn’t to most people of color). When did white Christians ever have it right? The Crusades? Colonization? Slavery? The Civil Rights Movement? Unfortunately, white evangelicals should never be the barometer for what’s right and wrong. We’ve come up on the wrong side just about every time. And yet we’re still blind to the pain we’re causing others.
But we are so conceited to think that we define Christianity.
We have never and we will never. We are a tiny speck in God’s story.
I guess my point is, I can’t believe I almost let white evangelicalism steal Jesus from me. I can’t believe I have been so blind to the faith of the oppressed, to think that it was evangelicalism or nothing, to completely discount their beliefs by letting white evangelicalism define what the church is to me.
My plan going forward is to listen. Listen to black preachers, black friends, black authors, Middle Eastern believers, African preachers, anyone with a different perspective on the Church. It’s time to listen and learn from others who have known for years what I’m just now figuring out.
If you’ve been struggling like I am, my plea to you is this: Please don’t let white evangelicalism steal Jesus from you. He is amazing. He is love and light and truth and freedom and all the things you want him to be. I promise he is. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise (with their words or actions).
And if you have a chance, read Reconstructing the Gospel. It’s much more eloquent than I am.
****I'd like to make a clarification. My classification of white evangelicals is a term I'm using to describe this group of people who have claimed to know Jesus but turned around and done very unChrist-like things in the name of Christ and "for" him. I know there are a lot of great white evangelicals out there who do not fit this description. I'm technically still a white evangelical. I unfortunately just don't know of a better term or phrase to describe the people I'm talking about. ****